19 August 2012
Carrying their tax receipts, the Armenian priest and village leaders went out to meet the Ottoman Turks. They wanted to prove they were no part of the tax protest, which the sultan had sent his troops to crush. The commander was unimpressed though the paperwork was in order and the delegation begged for mercy. His force surrounded the village and then bayoneted every human being therein.1 Other Ottoman forces followed suit throughout the region, and eventually, well over a million Armenians lay dead.2 Apparently, taxes were not the real issue after all.3
Infused by a “Protestant work ethic,” 19th- and early 20th-century Armenians were generally more affluent than their neighbors in today’s eastern Turkey:
A disproportionate number of Armenians were successful in small business, trade, and commerce; they were artisans, craftsmen, and farmers as well as teachers, clergy, and physicians . . . With the coming of the missionaries, a new class of educated and intellectual Armenians had emerged as an academic elite throughout the [Ottoman] empire . . . Armenian homes, whether modest or affluent, were often furnished with art, artifacts, carpets, and European furniture.4
As Christians in a Muslim empire, they suffered as “infidels” in many ways. They could not testify on their own behalf in the Islamic court system.5 They had to dismount their horses in the presence of Muslims.6 They could not own weapons.7 They were subject to “boy collection,” whereby Ottoman officials could simply take and “convert” their children for purposes of slavery.8 And they were victims of an abusive tax system, which included the following:
1. Tax “Farming”: Tax-collection rights were bid-out, and the winners were those who harvested the most revenues, however ruthless and criminal the tactics.9 (Similar tax collectors were despised in Jesus’ day.)
2. Military Exemption Tax: Christians were barred from the military and then taxed for their “exemption.”10
3. Hospitality Tax: Government officials enjoyed free lodging and food for three days each year in an Armenian home.11
4. Winter-Quartering Obligation: This entitled Kurds and Turks—and their families and animals—to lodge with Armenians during the coldest months.12
5. Double-Taxation: Official collectors would come round a second time, insisting that it was their first visit.13
6. Protection Fees: Turkish chieftains demanded special payments to withhold the rape and kidnap of Armenian women.14 Rival clans could each collect money for protection from the other.15
Human rights watchdogs typically focus on atrocities and spend little time on tax systems. But as the Armenian case demonstrates, an abusive tax system can indicate deep, menacing contempt, which can erupt in broader abuse. In former days, miners carried canaries into the mines to give early warning of toxic gases. When the canaries stopped singing, miners suspected an emergency. Similarly, statesmen and citizens should scrutinize their revenue systems for unholy resentments buried in the tax tables. They can be early indicators of social pathologies to come.
article adapted from Kairos Journal
First Baptist Church of Perryville is located on Rt. 40 at 4800 W. Pulaski Hwy.